I root for Brazil in futebol/soccer in all cases except one: when they play the United States. So I was a US fan as I sat down last night to watch yesterday’s Confederations Cup finals with my mother-in-law, who is from Rio and was, of course, rooting for Brazil.
Clint Dempsey’s one-touch goal 10 minutes in had me believing the US could stay competitive — Landon Donovan’s beauty at 26 minutes had me believing they could win (it also had me jumping off the sofa, yelling and pointing at my shirt “for the crowd”).
Tony Howard, our goalie, was playing loose and fast, Brazil looked “off” and Dunga looked like he was pondering his next career move.
There was only one negative indicator — my mother-in-law was moving around the kitchen with a slight SMILE on her face, doing the dishes, glancing at the TV, apparently untroubled that Brazil was down 2-0.
Like any Brazilian, she knows soccer and she especially knows Brazilian soccer. It’s strange, actually, in that she does not know or care about sports but she cares and knows about Brazilian soccer. She knows how it is supposed to look, what the players are supposed to be doing, how their game is supposed to be played. She has 67 years of history with it.
Thus her comfort level, down 2-0, made me uneasy. The only words she uttered: “It’s early.”
What came next was something she fully expected. Toward the end of the first half and throughout the second half, the US faced a Brazilian onslaught. Wave after wave of attack, the ball moving from one side of the field to the other, Kaka setting things up, Fabiano finishing them. The US looked more and more tired — they were just trying to hold on, to run out the clock.
No such luck, Brazil scored one minute into the second half, then again 18 minutes in, then finished it off with six minutes left. By the end, the world was reminded of the greatness of Brazilian soccer, of its “Beautiful Game”.
The only time during the whole game that my mother-in-law got upset was when Brazil appeared to have scored but the referees denied it. It was an insult and an injustice to her. In fact, her last words of the night to me where, “It was actually FOUR to two.” (Margin of victory, especially over an inferior opponent, counts in Brazil.)
Some random thoughts:
It’s hard for Americans to understand the depth of soccer in Brazil life. It is everywhere. Go to the Rio beaches and see the bloodsport pickup soccer games, the intense “foot-volleyball” games, the kids soccer camps.
If that doesn’t do it for you, try to imagine if everyone in the US played ONE SPORT. Not football, basketball, baseball, hockey, golf, etc. but 300 million people focused on one sport. Then you begin to get the idea. The only difference is that Brazil is 200 million people focused on one sport. (Yes there are other sports in Brazil but they have the same relation to soccer as professional bowling does to the NFL.)
It’s for this reason that I don’t believe the US will ever challenge Brazil’s (or Italy’s, Germany’s, etc.) dominance in soccer — there is too much dilution of our athletic talent by other sports.
Anyway, in the end, the better team won and, in many ways, it was awesome to watch. That brings up my last random point: when people ask me what it was like to play pro football (US football), which I did very briefly in the early ’90s, I always mention the speed of the game. Sitting at home watching TV, or even watching from the stands, you have a wide angle view. This makes things appear to develop much more slowly than the reality on the field. At field level, things are happening at light speed. Players are FLYING. For me, it was awesome to see the deftness and accuracy of the Brazilian attack, knowing the speed at which they were doing it. And the final testament to Brazilian players’ skill? They make it look easy.